There are thirteen native species of amphibians and reptiles (collectively known as herpetofauna) in the UK. Five of the seven native amphibians (common frog, common toad, smooth newt, palmate newt & great crested newt) and four of the six native reptiles (slow-worm, common lizard, grass snake & adder) are found in Greater London.
Currently there is a lack of available information on the whereabouts of herpetofauna across Greater London and so measures to safeguard them are often missed. This Atlas has therefore been produced to tackle this lack of information, encourage wider participation in wildlife recording and provide the means to secure long-term gains for amphibians and reptiles in Greater London.
The two maps below show all amphibian and reptile records from the last 10 years, plus assessment of whether a grid square contains suitable habitat.
What is the difference between these two maps?
This atlas shows the distribution of records for each of the native amphibian and reptile species in Greater London (2012). Maps of non-native species’ distribution (including wall lizard, Aesculapian snake & alpine newt) are not currently included. This atlas will continue to be updated throughout the years as more maps are modelled to represent new information on species distribution and habitat suitability as it comes in over time.
For more information on amphibian and reptile populations, the threats they face in London and the work behind producing this atlas (CLARE project) see below.
Herpetofauna populations are in decline due to a loss of suitable habitat. This is further exacerbated by a lack of understanding in terms of their habitat requirements and a lack of information on where suitable habitat (if managed correctly) remains. These maps indicate suitable habitat for amphibians and reptiles in Greater London using a range of methods of analysis. Alternative methods of analysis have been used to map species specific suitable habitat predictions within London.
Individual species accounts
Common frog Rana temporaria
Found in a wide range of damp habitats the common frog is London’s most widespread and commonly encountered amphibian and is the amphibian most likely to be found in urban gardens. When they emerge from winter hibernation, breeding immediately follows typically in late February or early March. Spawning occurs in spring and froglets will usually leave the pond in mid-late summer unless cold conditions result in tadpoles overwintering.
Common Toad Bufo bufo
Found in a wide range of habitats, toads are more tolerant of dry conditions than frogs or newts. They can often be found far from water outside their spring breeding season. In springtime they migrate to their breeding ponds (up to over 1km away) which usually takes place after dark on damp evenings in March. Tadpoles emerge from eggs usually within 2 weeks, while newly metamorphosed toadlets emerge all together in June or July after rain.
Smooth newt Lissotriton vulgaris
A widespread species, often found in garden ponds although has a preference for small, fish-free ponds and ditches in particular. One of the records for smooth newt closest to central London is in the Tate Modern’s Community Garden, SE1. Smooth newts hibernate on land and return to their breeding ponds in February or March, remaining there until June. Courting, mating and egg-laying occur both day and night throughout the breeding season and can be easily observed.
Palmate newt Lissotriton helveticus
Less frequent in garden ponds than the smooth newt, typically found in ponds on heathland and moorland throughout the UK, favouring ponds that are fish-free. As such they are less common in London than the smooth newt. They arrive at breeding ponds in February, courtship and breeding occurs at night a long egg-laying season lasts from March to June. During their terrestrial phase they are relatively tolerant of dry conditions and can range far from the pond.
Great crested newt Triturus cristatus
Great crested newts show a preference for larger ponds although will occasionally breed in smaller, garden ponds where they often co-exist with smooth newts. After hibernating on land, adults assemble in ponds in March to breed, eggs hatch within three weeks and young newts leave the water in August.
Slow-worm Anguis fragilis
The most common reptile in London, slow-worms are found in a variety of habitats including road and rail embankments, urban wasteland and they can thrive in wilder gardens and allotments. Slow-worms usually hibernate underground, often in disused mammal burrows or areas of ground which have been overturned and churned to create gaps in the soil or even in dense vegetation. They emerge in March, mating occurs in April and females give birth to live young in late August-September. They bask in the open far less readily than other lizards and can often be found underneath log piles and artificial refuges (carpet, corrugated iron).
Common lizard Zootoca vivipara
Common lizards prefer open, dry, undisturbed habitats with good exposure to the sun such as chalk meadows, commons and railway and road embankments. They are small, active lizards often seen basking on a log or rock close to dense vegetation, particularly in spring. Females give birth to live young in mid-summer (July/August).
Grass snake Natrix natrix
Grass snakes are widespread throughout London. They will often reside in open woodland and golf courses and are regularly encountered within or nearby water due to their diet of amphibians and fish. The drive to find a suitable site for egg-laying (warm, composting vegetation) means that they are also often spotted in gardens and allotments. They are the only native reptile in London which lays eggs. Eggs are laid in June in rotting vegetation (such as compost heaps) and hatch in late summer.
Adder Vipera berus
Adders are restricted to specific habitats including heathland, scrub, woodland edges and road and rail embankments. Only a few populations now remain in London. They are encountered most frequently in spring and autumn when basking near their traditional hibernation sites. Young are born live during August.
Adders are not aggressive and will only use their venomous bite in defence. Most bites result from accidental encounters or deliberate antagonisation. Most often, when disturbed they will retreat slowly into hiding. Serious illness or death from an adder bite is extremely rare, much rarer than a bad reaction to a bee or wasp sting, though anyone bitten should seek medical attention.
Despite the fact that adders have some legal protection, they remain threatened by persecution. Because of this we have not included a map of adder distribution in Greater London.
If you would like to find out more about adder distribution in Greater London please choose one of the following options:
- If you are a GiGL partner you will be able to receive access to this information. Email one of the GiGL team for further details, see contact page.
- For research purposes please read and fill in one of the relevant GiGL Data Use Licences found in the Policies and Guidance Page and send to one of GiGL’s Data Officers, see contacts page.
- If you are interested in surveying please get in touch with London Amphibian and Reptile Group (LARG) email:firstname.lastname@example.org or visit the LARG website
For more information on London’s and all of the UK’s herpetofauna species visit Amphibian and Reptile Conservation’s website
Threats and the future for amphibians and reptiles
Threats to amphibians and reptiles
Amphibian and reptile populations in the UK declined significantly during the last century. In common with many elements of our wildlife, this is primarily attributable to habitat degradation and the direct loss of habitats.
Amphibians and reptiles are ecologically characterised by having relatively low dispersal abilities and typically occupying open habitats. This means that they are especially vulnerable to land development and the degradation of important features of their environments. Consequently, in a London context, many of their populations are threatened and thought to be in decline.
Amphibians are also threatened by the spread of disease and reptiles threatened by persecution. There is a lack of available information on the whereabouts of herpetofauna across Greater London so opportunities to safeguard them are often missed, simply through not knowing the species are there or how best to manage their remaining habitat.
The future of amphibians and reptiles in London
There are still numerous sites and regions within Greater London for which we have no data or very out of date information on amphibian and reptile distribution. Without this information, herpetofauna will continue to face the same threats in the capital and the little suitable habitat that remains may be lost.
The CLARE Project has provided a good start for a more focused and continuous effort for amphibian and reptile surveying and monitoring in London. We hope that this Atlas will inspire more people to get involved with surveying and recording so we can begin to accurately assess the status of London’s amphibian and reptile populations. Without this information we will not be able to secure their future in the capital.
The Connecting London’s Amphibian and Reptile Environments (CLARE) Project
In 2011 the CLARE Project was set up in partnership between Amphibian and Reptile Conservation, London Wildlife Trust, GiGL (Greenspace information for Greater London) and London Amphibian and Reptile Group (LARG) with funding from Heritage Lottery Fund to support the following aims:
- Raise awareness of amphibians and reptiles and their conservation in Greater London
- Promote wider public participation in wildlife recording
- Further the delivery of London’s Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) targets:
- Protect and conserve the native herpetofuana of Greater London
- Establish a baseline population dataset of herpetofauna in Greater London
- Increase the distribution of herpetofauna in Greater London
The Atlas has been produced in order to achieve these aims and provide the means to secure long-term gains for amphibians and reptiles in Greater London. By hosting the Atlas here online it allows GiGL to update it as we anticipate the mapped distribution of amphibians and reptiles will change with new records coming in and suitable management taking place.
The CLARE Project has provided a good start for a more focused and continuous effort for amphibian and reptile surveying and monitoring in London. We hope that this Atlas will inspire more people to get involved sending in their sightings and actively surveying so we can begin to accurately assess the status of London’s amphibian and reptile populations. Without this information we will not be able to secure their future in the Capital. If you are interested in surveying please get in touch with London Amphibian and Reptile Group (LARG) email:email@example.com or visit LARG’s website.